BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — While Jordan Jefferson’s teammates were practicing Friday for a season opener that is now merely a week away, the quarterback was hiring a new lawyer to defend him against felony charges.
Jefferson and teammate Joshua Johns turned themselves in and were released on $5,000 bond each Friday after police obtained arrest warrants on charges of second-degree battery, stemming from their alleged roles in a fight outside Shady’s bar in Baton Rouge on Aug. 19. The players have been suspended indefinitely by the school.
"It’s certainly a tough time for our team when they see a teammate in peril," coach Les Miles said, describing some players in tears when they first gathered to talk about moving forward without their projected starting quarterback and reserve linebacker. "It’s hard on them. I don’t believe there were many that believed that was the outcome, and it took some time for them to understand what was going on.
"This is not how I intended to spend my preseason," Miles added. "I wanted to spend it much more on football."
Two months ago, Jefferson was one of the featured counselors at the Manning family’s football camp in south Louisiana, talking about maturity, leadership and his hope to leading LSU firmly into the national championship picture. He was already 20-7 as a starter, giving him a chance to challenge Tommy Hodson’s LSU career record of 31 victories by a starting quarterback.
Miles said he had seen a change in Jefferson in recent months and sensed that the quarterback was on the brink of his best season yet.
"In many ways (he) had really showed team leadership and skills that he’d not shown up to this point," Miles said. "So this, I’m sure, is devastating to him and his family."
Jefferson had continued practicing for most of this week, hoping to be absolved in a melee that sent four to the hospital. All were treated and released within hours, but police chief Dewayne White has said one of the injured men had fractured vertebrae.
"Today is a sad day for the city of Baton Rouge. Today is a sad day for Louisiana State University, the LSU alumni and the countless fans that follow the Tiger football program," White said. "It is also a sad day for the Baton Rouge police department."
White said the evidence in the case would be forwarded to the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney for review.
He described the evidence as "numerous interviews of witnesses, including victims and players implicated in the incident ... as well as video evidence of certain individuals, all of whom were present at the scene."
Meanwhile, Jefferson and Johns both hired new attorneys, with Jefferson retaining Lewis Unglesby and Johns enlisting Thomas Damico.
"The case is a zero case or a misdemeanor case at most," said Unglesby, a former special counsel for the Louisiana governor’s office whose other past clients have included former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Popeye’s Fried Chicken founder Al Copeland and several politicians who have faced corruption charges.
"It’s been way over-hyped from the legal perspective and overcharged from the legal perspective," Unglesby continued. "The shame of it will be if the accusation by itself works to prohibit (Jefferson’s) opportunities to continue on with his athletic and academic career. That would be very unfair when six months from now the smoke clears and everyone realizes he didn’t do anything wrong. But he’s paid a dear, dear price for just being accused."
A police report says a 19-year-old woman named Victoria Long said she witnessed several LSU players beating one of the alleged victims and saw Jefferson kick that man in the face.
Two witnesses who work at the bar told The Associated Press that the players did not throw the first punch, but added that once the melee began, it was difficult to see who hit whom, and could not verify the extent to which Jefferson and Johns were involved.
White said Jefferson and Johns have cooperated fully in the investigation.
Police also identified offensive lineman Chris Davenport, and receiver Jarvis Landry as people of interest in the fight, but did not comment on their status Friday, and they remained on the team. White said the police would not be making any more public comments about the merits or facts of the case, "for the purposes of protecting the integrity of an ongoing and continuing investigation into to this matter." Each of the four players were interviewed by investigators Tuesday. On Wednesday, police executed a search warrant of Jefferson’s apartment and took 49 pairs of shoes, along with a DNA swab.
Under team orders, LSU players have not discussed the fight publicly since it happened.
With Jefferson suspended, fellow senior Jarrett Lee is slated to make his 10th career start against Oregon, with sophomore Zach Mettenberger, a junior college transfer, next in line, followed by Stephen Rivers, younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
LSU has numerous other key players returning and was expected to compete for Southeastern Conference and national championships this season.
The team’s success now will ride on how the players are able to regroup from a series of setbacks this offseason, one of which occurred Thursday when LSU suspended starting wide receiver Russell Shepard for violating school and NCAA codes that pertain to discussing NCAA inquiries with teammates who are also scheduled to be interviewed on the same matter.
LSU plans to apply for Shepard’s reinstatement, but it is unclear how long that will take. The receiver will miss at least the opener and possibly more games.
Shepard had been interviewed about the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into the relationship that scouting services provider and purported street agent Willie Lyles has had with a number of college football programs, including both LSU and Oregon.
Earlier this summer, Steve Kragthorpe, who was hired after last season as the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator, announced he had Parkinson’s disease. He has remained on staff as quarterbacks coach, but relinquished offensive coordinator duties. Miles has since promoted offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to fill that void.